New Navy Smart Microgrid Project Will Test Vanadium Flow Battery Storage

The California Energy Commission (CEC) and U.S. Navy (USN) are teaming up to spur deployment of grid-integrated local renewable energy resources and advanced energy storage solutions. On December 1, Imergy Power Systems announced that its ESP30 series vanadium-flow batteries will be used in a CEC-sponsored Smart Microgrid project hosted by the Navy at its Mobile Utilities Support Equipment (MUSE) Facility in Port Hueneme, California.

Foresight Renewable Solutions is responsible for the engineering, design and construction of the USN-MUSE smart microgrid. If all goes well, the demo project will serve as a model for smart microgrid deployments at U.S. military installations and civilian communities in California and beyond.

Scheduled to be tested from Summer 2015 to the end of the year, the smart microgrid demo system will consist of up to 150-kW of solar PV capacity and a 100-kW/400-kWh energy storage solution based on Imergy’s ESP30 vanadium-flow batteries, Foresight Renewable Solutions’ CEO Carlos Pineda said. The GELI (Growing Energy Labs, Inc.) Energy Operating System (EOS) will manage the smart microgrid’s operations. 

Foresight was awarded the $1.7-million CEC grant last year, coming out on top among 30 candidates vying for the project award. Matching funds from participants will bring the total budget to $3 million.

“The grant was for newer technologies on the verge of commercial deployment. Imergy’s flow battery disaggregates power conversion and energy storage, providing for incremental additions of storage capacity if needed. It also uniquely provides cost-effective bulk energy storage and fast-response ability to enhance power quality,” Pineda explained.

Disaggregating Energy Storage and Conversion

The CEC’s selection process was extensive, Pineda said, entailing “an extensive review…to determine a strong community partner (including military bases) and the potential for the technology to increase renewable energy penetration.”

Lower energy costs and sustainable energy security, reliability and resiliency — not only for the MUSE facility but for electric grid operators — rank at the top of the list of the smart microgrid project’s anticipated benefits. As Imergy explained in a press release, “The Smart Microgrid project will focus on developing applications and use-case scenarios to optimize power consumption at military bases, college campuses, industrial parks and other institutions.”

Integrated with a solar PV system with generating capacity of as much as 150-kW and the GELI EOS, three Imergy ESP30 series vanadium-flow batteries will comprise the core of the MUSE smart microgrid. Each ESP30 has a 50-kW power/200-kWh energy storage capacity. 

Four key attributes will provide the basis for assessing the CEC-USN smart microgrid’s performance:

  • Demand charge management: The project will demonstrate how well the system can release short bursts of energy when demand peaks occur, enabling users to reduce their electricity bills by lowering their utility demand charges;
  • Load shifting: The project will prove how well the system can shift load from higher cost times of day to lower cost times of day, enabling users to reduce their electricity bills by shifting load to times when electricity prices are lower;
  • Solar firming and ramp rate control: The project will show how well batteries can smooth out the jagged nature of solar power production, helping solar power systems provide more consistent power throughout the day;
  • Island mode: The project will demonstrate how well a photovoltaic (PV) solar system and battery storage, disconnected from the grid, can provide energy for a user’s critical loads during a given time period, enabling similar systems to be securely deployed at remote, mission critical facilities.

The Battery Technology

According to Dr. Herve Mazzocco, Imergy’s director of business development, the company’s vanadium-flow batteries are more efficient, flexible and will in short order prove to be more cost-effective than conventional, fossil-fuel grid assets for balancing out fluctuations in grid power demand and supply, particularly as penetration of renewable energy generation assets continues to grow.

Imergy’s vanadium-flow battery systems, Mazzocco highlighted, can ramp up or down and pass through full charge-discharge cycles in a matter of milliseconds as compared to minutes for natural gas “peaker” plants, delivering electricity at utility-scale over periods of four, six and even eight hours.

Besides enabling grid operators to integrate more intermittent renewable energy from solar and wind generation assets, these attributes are also of critical importance when it comes to recovering to grid outages and failures — in other words, they can significantly enhance grid resiliency and reliability.

Imergy’s vanadium-flow battery technology is also scaleable, Mazzocco said, making it better suited to meet grid-scale needs. Further, the batteries last longer than advanced energy storage solutions based on Li-ion batteries, he said.

The fact that Imergy uses recycled vanadium from environmental waste in manufacturing its advanced battery storage systems adds to the MUSE smart microgrid’s advantages and benefits vis-a-vis conventional alternatives. A transition metal, ample supplies of vanadium exist. The majority of vanadium is used in structural steel alloys. It also alloyed with titanium in the manufacture of jet engines and air frames, as well as in alloys used in nuclear reactors.

Integrating Renewables and Enhancing Energy Security, Grid Reliability and Resiliency

Distributing advanced energy storage systems both on the utility and customer sides of the grid could well be the missing piece of the puzzle that accelerates the transition from fossil-fuel to renewable energy-based energy system and “green” economy. Navigant Research predicts that annual global revenues for energy storage systems for the grid and ancillary services will grow from $675 million in 2014 to $15.6 billion in 2024.

California and the U.S. military are at the forefront of a wave of early adopters. Passage of AB2514 in October 2013 requires California’s three investor-owned utilities to acquire 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of power storage capacity by 2020.

Renewable energy resources supply 12 percent of the Navy’s total annual energy needs at present. That’s due to increase to at least 20 percent over the course of the decade. “Microgrids at military bases could help the military lower energy costs, expand their use of renewable energy, and reduce their dependence on diesel and grid connectivity for mission critical assignments,” Imergy highlights in its press release.

The CEC-USN microgrid will be the first field-test of Imergy’s ESP30 vanadium-flow battery system in the U.S. Similar installations that entail integrating solar PV and Imergy’s vanadium-flow battery system are under way in India and will be up and running before the CEC-Navy microgrid system is operational, Mazzocco said.

Vanadium-flow battery storage technologies such as Imergy’s ESP30 address multiple issues grid operators are facing as environmental, industry regulations and market conditions change and greater amounts of renewable energy generation capacity come online, he elaborated.

“To solve these multiple problems you need fast response, large capacities and long lived assets, and that’s what we provide. In the end, the bottom line is that we deliver a solution that is safe, that lasts long, that is affordable and compares favorably to traditional fossil fuel-based grid assets.”

Lead image: Lighthouse at Port Hueneme, California via Shutterstock


  • Andrew reports on renewable energy, clean technology and other issues and topics from posts abroad and here in the US.

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